The fifth instalment in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter also happens to be the very first film in the franchise that’s directed by David Yates. Since he was also hired for that same role in the rest of the saga, as well as every Fantastic Beasts movie (to awful results), I guess he did a really good job with Order of the Phoenix, right? Let’s find out.
After almost getting expelled from Hogwarts for casting magic outside school, Harry Potter will realise everyone has ignored his warnings about Voldemort being back, so he will gather those close friends who do trust him in order to train them and form an army of young wizards. Harry will learn about the existence of a prophecy that may change the odds in the battle against the dark lord himself… Meanwhile, Hogwarts will face extreme changes as a new headmaster steps in, threatening students and professors alike.
As years go by, Harry and his friends grow older, and their relationships get more and more mature. Therefore, the movies that depict them must get more serious too, and the nicely written script definitely achieves that. Creating different sides (those who believe Harry and those who don’t) enhances the bonds depicted on-screen which really serves the arcs of the characters. It perfectly balances the moments in which the protagonist feels alone and those in which he is warmly surrounded by friends, creating a sense of empathy towards most characters that lasts the entire runtime. Even love relationships are handled properly, especially considering the target audience of the film. The introduction given to new characters is pretty good too, which isn’t really surprising, taking into account how rich Rowling’s novels are.
Speaking of the novel, it’s usually no easy task to adapt a work to another format, and the fifth book sure does suffer when getting turned into a movie. The focus is not always in the right place, resulting in lengthy scenes of secondary material and a lack of urgency in what actually matters in the plot. The meaning of certain elements is poorly explained so the stakes do not feel very high even in the most critical moments. The central elements of the story, the prophecy itself, doesn’t seem as critical as it really is, and when the movie ends, there’s a sense of dissatisfaction left, especially when trying to consider the events depicted as part of a larger saga. The pacing also suffers from this, as comedy bits seem to last forever before the action begins.
As a director, Yates does a rather poor job, to put it simply. The camera work is just unimaginative, it uses very standard shots that lack any emotional or stylistic meaning. There’s absolutely no prowess at depicting events and relationships through the cinematic language itself, which results in a quite dull experience, especially when comparing it to previous flicks. The climatic final battle is messy and difficult to understand, which makes the film end in a negative beat. Tone, the colour of the frames themselves, has definitely gotten darker, grimmer this time around, which could’ve been interesting if using it as a narrative tool, but lighting isn’t used in any evoking way, so it does feel very underwhelming.
What is indeed great is the cast. The protagonist trio is as good as ever, and the way they portray their relationship is more fun than ever before. As more and more new characters join them, there’s lots of actors and actresses to be talked about, so let’s skip to the latest additions. Probably my favourite new character is that of Bellatrix Lestrange, who is portrayed by the one and only Helena Bonham Carter. She takes this character to her absolute limits, resulting in an intense and memorable performance. Another antagonist in Order of the Phoenix is Dolores Umbridge, the woman sent by the ministry of magic in order to control Hogwarts. Imelda Staunton steals the damn show with her amazing performance, resulting in a hateful character, one of the most terrible antagonists imaginable. Evanna Lynch, in the role of Luna Lovegood, does an amazing job too, as she is mysterious, weird and lovely, all at the same time. Finally, and even if I do know it’s not his first time as Albus Dumbledore, Michael Gambon is one of the most enigmatic and believable characters the movie has. His badass phoenix moment is probably the most enjoyable scene in the whole runtime, too!
As years go by technology has evolved exponentially. As a result, computer generated imagery has been getting more and more detailed. However, due to the extreme use of such techniques, some results feel… fake. Full-body CGI looks pretty terrible in many moments of the film, and some characters that could’ve been done through prosthetic make-up are huge blobs of animation that don’t belong in the frame at all. In addition, as there is no physical object while filming, actors have a bad time making eye-contact with said creatures (a giant that lives in the forest is created this way, and it’s more than obvious that the actors are looking at a placeholder item). Other effects have been changes since previous film and look way cheaper and not as interesting.
As final thoughts, I’d like to address the soundtrack. My knowledge in music is very limited, so I might be wrong about this, but I feel like even if the themes used throughout the runtime do work properly at conveying the emotions that the scenes require, do not feel as a whole unit as they lack cohesion. The songs present in the film are indeed beautiful, but they could very well belong to different films altogether.
All in all, I think it’s safe to say that Order of the Phoenix doesn’t make justice to the original material. The story and characters are great, but are definitely not enough to make an outstanding movie. Yates lacks the craftsmanship that some of his predecessors boasted, and the result is an average film packed with amazing performances and a very solid script (albeit some lines are extremely cheese even for a movie of its kind). It may be enough for many, but Potterheads sure deserve more than this. 6/10